When you don’t, won’t, or can’t conform to what is considered socially ‘normal’, it can be extremely hard to develop a healthy sense of self worth and confidence. The war between who you are and what society expects you to be can be devastating, especially for those who choose to sacrifice or hide the most unique parts of their identity in return for fitting in.
This raises the deepest of personal questions: how much of your ‘self’ is it okay to give away to find your place among others?
The answer lies in how much value you place on social acceptance as opposed to self acceptance. If it is more important to you to fit seamlessly into the fabric of society, and if it makes you happy to do so, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with training yourself to be the person you want to be.
There is no person on this earth that doesn’t compromise a little of their personality in exchange for an easier social life. However, for those who are deeply uncomfortable with changing larger aspects of their self, the path to acceptance (confidence and sense of worth) can feel impossible. It can feel like a struggle against nature, trying to force a brain to think and act in a way that makes no sense to it.
It can also feel like a whole lot of failure when that effort comes back with no reward. The difference between yourself and others, who seem to find those actions so much more natural (or they are much better at pretending) feels vast. It’s isolating. This article applies to anyone who feels different, but especially among those on the autism spectrum it often feels like you’re an eternal outsider.
An alien. Unable to properly communicate and become part of the world.
Fighting that is hard. Fighting to be human when your instincts are alien is exhausting. Shutting down actions and responses, analysing every detail of your presentation, closely examining everything you do, before and after you do it–all of this to learn to be something you’re not, and you know it. It’s disheartening.
If you’re not prepared to change who you are for the sake of an arbitrary social norm (and why should you?), it’s time to drop that goal in favour of a better, long-term path to confidence.
Taking a strengths-based approach to self acceptance means looking at yourself objectively, drawing out all of your positives and negatives, and choosing to love where you are strong and take steps to manage where you are weak. This can be nigh on impossible if you’re in a depressive state, so it may help to work with a friend who knows you well.
Include any mental illness or ‘weirdness’ you think you have. Even if you are working toward recovery, the prevalence of anxiety, depression, and other mental conditions among some of the world’s best and brightest suggests that your thought patterns have unique properties that are not common. Loving yourself because of those patterns (rather than in spite of the illnesses they make you prone to) is a huge confidence boost.
Remember that wording matters, too. How you choose to talk about yourself and to yourself makes a huge difference in how you feel.
For example, as a highly anxious person I am often concerned that something terrible is about to happen. I could say that makes me ‘paranoid’, or ‘obsessively distracted with fear’.
Or, I could love that extra alertness I have and say it means I am highly aware of my surroundings. I am more likely to spot a potential threat than those around me. That awareness is valuable now. That doesn’t mean I give up on training myself to function through periods of intense anxiety. The negative behaviours that come with anxiety still need to be managed, and that comes with time and practice. In the meantime, I’m not anxious over being anxious about being anxious. Why?
Because I see the strength it provides as well as the weakness.
Autism is full of these balanced negatives and positives. I’m not the most socially savvy person, but I see the best in people and what they could be. I can get highly and destructively fixated on a task, my ability to multitask is terrible–or, I am tenacious with a high productivity rate in a focused state.
It’s all marketing, really. Once you’ve successfully built a positive view of yourself, and once you believe it (this isn’t about twisting facts or cherry picking details, those positives are there, we just get so caught up in the idea of an ‘illness’ or ‘disorder’ that we fail to see there’s anything good in our experience at all) you will be in a position to market yourself to the external world.
And you know what? For all the social pressure to conform, the world loves weird. So long as it is presented with confidence and positivity, show where you are strong and how you can manipulate that to be valuable and there it is: the holy grail of self and social acceptance.
There’s very little point in working against your brain. Unless your brain is pushing you towards the wrong side of the law, or toward actions that are truly damaging–there are always exceptions. But for the most part, you are the only you this world has and there is no good reason you should have to sacrifice that. Not if it doesn’t make you happy, not if the sacrifice is only for the sake of others who can’t tolerate a little difference.
If you’re an alien–so what? Own it. Show everyone the best parts of being an alien, and look for the best parts in others. Work with your brain, not against it. The less time you spend going against simple harmless behaviours, the more time and energy you will have to devote to the behaviours that you do want to reduce.
I’d love to hear about the strengths you find in yourself, especially those related to a mental illness, disorder, or ASD!
Comment them below to help others view the positives in their neurodiversity.